D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – Character Themes

It’s funny when I think about it, because I just realized that Glen should hate the concept of reducing the gladiator from its own character class to a character theme. There are reasons why he might be a little more cool with it this time around (not the least of which is that he’s now coming up on thirty, like myself – and not a prickish teenager, as all teenagers are), but I guess we’ll see.

Robert Schwalb explained it like this:

One way to look at [character themes] … imagine your D&D character right now as [having] two major legs: your class and your race define the fundamentals of your character. A theme is like a third leg you can add to your character … to define and push against what you’d normally be able to do.

From what I’ve seen and heard, character themes seem (to me) to be the love-child of 2nd Edition’s character kits and 3rd Edition’s prestige classes. Like prestige classes they’re open and accessible so long as you meet a few broad requirements, and like character kits they’re not a class replacement but are instead an optional add-on.

In 2nd Edition glatiatior was a Dark Sun character class – and also a fighter “kit,” an optional extra you could tack on to make a fighter a little more gladiatorial. When I told Glen about this (I had the Complete Book of Fighters that detailed the gladiator kit, and he didn’t), his response was something along the lines of “that’s bullshit, the gladiator class is awesome, the gladiator kit is shit, it’s stupid, and you like it so you’re stupid, fuck you and your stupid gladiator kit loving face.”

That’s a paraphrase, by the way.

Baker explained the concept behind character themes, instead of creating templar or gladiator classes, was that they were really more concepts than professions. Anyone who fights in the arena is, more or less, a gladiator – isn’t he? The old gladiator class was a modified fighter – but rangers, rogues or barbarians who fight in the arena are also gladiators. Why don’t they get their own modified classes to represent that? There was never really a good reason (it’s worth noting that, in our youth, we never thought to ask the question, but that doesn’t make it a bad question – it just makes us stupid teenagers).

Likewise with templars. A templar is, ultimately, a sorcerer-king’s bureaucrat whom the sorcerer-king can choose to channel his incredible power into. One of the weirder things was that sorcerer-kings could not cast divine spells, yet they could grant divine spells to templars. Which makes no fucking sense whatsoever. On top of which, the entire governmental bureaucracy was composed of templars. This was touched on in the Prism Pentad series, but was a central feature of the Chronicles of Athas novel series that followed was centered on a Urikite templar. If your generals are templars, wouldn’t it make sense to have martially-inclined templars (i.e. the warlord). Further there was always reference to defilers who practiced sorcery with their king’s blessing, in exchange for service – now, the character theme concept allows for all those character types to provide service to a sorcerer-king.

The basic manner in which themes work is like this: you pick one at 1st level, and you get an extra encounter power. Gladiators, for example, get a power called disrupting advance which dishes out double weapon damage, knocks the enemy back 2 squares, and hits him and any other enemies adjacent to the target with a slow effect. Pretty butch stuff. As you go up in level, when you’d normally get a new class power you will sometimes have the option of selecting a theme power instead. So someone who selects gladiator as his theme can focus heavily in gladiatorial combat, or only have the tiniest investment in it.

Presumably there will also be feats (and possibly paragon paths) that are only available to certain character themes.

So far the sample characters I’ve reference previously name five character themes: gladiator, templar, elemental priest, veiled alliance, and wilder (which is one of the “wild talent” themes, I believe). The details on what, specifically, themes offer beyond a 1st level encounter power isn’t provided.

Also, on the note of the templar, there’s one quick thing I should have mentioned last time. The warlock class, as 4e fans know, is predicted upon striking a bargain with otherworldly powers – demons, devils, powerful fey, or the alien beings that exist beyond the stars. A warlock needs to chose the nature of his pact at creation, which affects his power choices and the overall “flavor” of his character. The sorcerer-king templar pact will be introduced in DS4e as a warlock option.

I for one am excited for character themes. They open the game up, but avoid the limits of being class-specific like character kits (I think every character class had its own “pirate” kit, because everyone can engage in piracy – which was both redundant and kind of silly). It allows logic into the equation – effectively stating that there’s no reason why the scheming, power-hungry sorcerer kings would be so stupid as to put city bureaucrats in charge of their armies (instead of military men or women), or why a ranged fighting in the arena isn’t just as much a gladiator as the fighter. It address the complex issue of wild talents and game balance, and it gives a new range of choices to make your character cool and interesting.

One more month as DS4e hits shelves. I’m looking more and more forward to it with every post.

Honestly, I don’t know what I’ll talk about next time I look at DS4e. I’ve covered all the biggest topics. If there are any requests, toss them in the comments.

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D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – Character Classes

It’s kind of funny; I expected the review of character classes to be a big one, several posts in length. In fact, I was so certain this article would be so much work, I intentionally avoided thinking about it while I worked on my various school assignments. But, when I sat down and actually gave it some thought, I realized something:

I know fuck all about changes to the character classes in DS4e.

I had planned on doing one article on the Divine, Martial and (maybe) Primal power source classes. A second article about Arcane classes, and a third about Psionic classes. But I realize now, there’s not really any official word on changes. So, with that in mind, I realize that the few droplets of information I have can be tossed out in a single post. So here we go.

First of all, there won’t be any new character classes introduced in DS4e. None at all. The gladiator and templar will be in the game, just not as full character classes – I’ll be discussing them next time, when we hit up character themes. Suffice to say that it’s a pretty cool, pretty slick addition to the game (in my opinion), but if you’re going to hate everything that changes because it’s different? You’ll hate character themes, right alongside the 4e half-giant and thri-kreen.

The basic classes (i.e. those from the Player’s Handbook series) I’ll address below:

Arcane characters (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)

From what I can gather, all of these classes will be subject to the defiling & preserving rules – whatever they may be. So far, the only official commentary on the subject I’ve heard is a sort of half-sentence Rich Baker made during the panel podcast (I think that’s where I heard it) indicating defilers can dish out some damage to those surrounding them. As long-time fans will know, defiling humanoid lifeforms used to be the strict purview of sorcerer-kings (and other defilers above 20th level), so I’m curious how this will be implemented.

Also, I realize this will make the bard into a defiling/preserving class, which takes a bit to get your head around. Nevertheless, I think it makes sense – the old edition’s fix for the bard’s spellcasting ability was to remove that feature entirely, which was fine because spells were a minor component of the bard’s overall abilities. In 4th Edition, the way powers are structured make the bards abilities almost exclusively spells.

Divine characters (avenger, cleric, invoker, paladin, runepriest)

This is an easy one – they’re gone. There are no gods in the world of Dark Sun, thus there is no divine power source. As best I can tell, elemental clerics are now addressed by the primal power source and an appropriate character theme. Likewise, templars are also addressed by character themes. How exactly that works will be examined next time.

Martial characters (fighter, ranger, rogue, warlord)

I don’t really anticipate any changes to these classes and haven’t heard anything. It’s worth noting that the massive material penalties from 2nd edition (bone swords, chitin shields, etc.) no longer apply – effectively metal weapons are considered masterwork, and bone/obsidian equipment will be considered “the norm.” This should prevent martial characters from being rendered ineffectual by the absence of decent gear.

Primal characters (barbarian, druid, seeker, shaman, warden)

Though only the druid existed in the original Dark Sun, these classes fit the setting perfectly. The shaman (and possibly the druid) seems poised to take on the role of the elemental clerics, worshiping the raw elemental forces of the world (fire, earth, air, water). If you check out the sample character sheets of DS4e characters, on page 5 there’s a thri-kreen shaman named Pak’cha with the character theme elemental priest. I’ll be discussing character themes next time, but from what I can tell the primal power sources seems (thematically) a better fit than the divine source for elemental clerics, so you won’t hear me complaining about the shift.

Psionic characters (ardent, battlemind, monk, psion)

Lastly psionic characters. I am not anticipating much in the way of changes here either, though I am curious how they integrate with wild talents – which I haven’t talked about much up until this point, mainly because I don’t know anything about them. I know that wild talents will exist, and from what I understand they’ll basically be cantrip-level effects – gone are the days where a good dice roll grants you a half dozen enemy slaughtering powers. Rich Baker basically went on record saying that if a character needs more psionic might, there are character themes that augment the wild talent concept. Beyond that? Multiclass into a psionic class, or just be a psionic character if you love psionics so much. I’m fine with that, though I’m curious whether psionic characters will get an extra cantrip-effect of their own to maintain power balancing. Maybe it won’t matter, I’ll have to wait until I see the rules to really say.

Alright, another day, and another subject down. I expected to need a week or two to blitz through the character classes, and I’m thrilled to see that I didn’t. Next time I’ll be tackling character themes, a completely new rule mechanic being rolled out with DS4e. I’m actually pretty excited about the idea, and think it really adds a lot of diversity to an individual character. See you next time.